The prolonged Israeli naval blockade has destroyed Gaza’s fishing industry and marine sports
The number of Gaza fishermen has dropped from about 10,000 in the year 2000 to about 3500 today due to Israeli imposed restrictions on fishing limit
TEXT ON SCREEN: After this report was filed, the Israeli government announced on March 21 that the fishing area would be further reduced.
Israel claimed that two rockets were fired from Gaza, and although there were no injuries, took the measure of restricting the fishing area off the coast of the Gaza Strip to three miles, reducing it from the six-mile zone.
YOUSEF ALHELOU, JOURNALIST: Under years of Israeli blockade, the Gaza fishing industry has become the hardest hit sector, leaving thousands of fishermen struggling to make ends meet, especially in light of the restrictions imposed by the Israeli Navy on fishing maritime areas and frequent harassments that prevent Palestinian fishermen from practicing their right to fish freely along Gaza’s 40 kilometer coastline in the Mediterranean Sea.
The naval blockade was imposed following the second Palestinian uprising, which broke out in September 2000, and was tightened in mid 2006. Since then, fishermen have been forced to fish in shallow waters.
Under the Oslo Accords of 1993, Palestinians are allowed to fish for up to 20 nautical miles from the seashore, but in 2006 this limit has dropped to three. Due to the restrictions imposed by the Israeli Navy, the number of active fishermen has dropped from approximately 10,000 in the year 2000 to around 3,500 today.
As a result of the naval blockade and restrictions imposed by the Israeli Navy, as you can see, hundreds of small fishing boats are anchored at Gaza seaport, simply because fishermen cannot reach areas abundant with fish.
Following the November 2012 ceasefire agreement, Israel announced that fishermen can reach up to six nautical miles, but since then many attacks have been reported within this limit.
GAZAN FISHERMAN (VOICEOVER TRANSL.): I’m a fisherman struggling to support my family. The current limit of six nautical miles is not enough. We need to reach at least ten miles to be able to fish in areas abundant with fish. In the past, I was injured, abducted while fishing. My boat was confiscated. When they approached me they asked me via a loudspeaker to take off my clothing and jump into the water and swim towards their military gunship.
ALHELOU: According to the Union of Fishermen, since the year 2000, nine Gazan fishermen have been killed and hundreds injured and abducted while fishing in Palestinian waters. Many fishing boats were attacked and drowned. And just this last year, 36 boats were confiscated and taken to Ashdod port.
MICHAEL COLMAN, AUSTRALIAN ACTIVIST, GAZA’S ARK PROJECT: Palestinians should be allowed to fish Palestinian waters without the threat of attack by the Israeli occupation force. The other message from today is that the 36 boats currently in Ashdod, the Palestinian fishing boats, need to be returned to the Palestinians. That’s directly affecting 36 families who no longer have a livelihood because of Israeli occupation. This is unacceptable.
ALHELOU: Israel claims that Palestinian militant groups smuggle weapons via the sea and the naval blockade is necessary to stop them. Some here say that these attacks aim to sabotage the already weak economy in the tiny coastal strip, as Gaza’s 3,500 fishermen’s income supports about 40,000 people.
GAZAN FISHERMAN (VOICEOVER TRANSL.): Three to six nautical miles limit is not even enough for swimming, and fishermen come under fire even in that zone. All Israeli claims of weapons smuggled via the sea are baseless. We demand that the international community put pressure on Israel to lift the blockade.
ALHELOU: Due to the strict restrictions on fishing and ban to reach areas rich with fish, Gazans are forced to import fresh fish from the Egyptian side or frozen fish from the Israeli side.
Some here think that Israeli restrictions at sea aim to prevent fishermen from getting close to the gas fields which were discovered recently in Palestinian territorial waters.
Meanwhile, fishing boat construction is dying in Gaza, and only boats damaged by Israeli gunship bullets are repaired on the beach. Fishermen say there is no point in making new vessels due to the naval restrictions.
BOAT BUILDER/MAKER (VOICEOVER TRANSL.): We only fix damaged boats, as there is no point building new boats in light of the imposed fishing limit at sea. Most of the needed materials that we need, such as fiber, are brought in from the underground tunnels.
Although Gaza is located on the Mediterranean Sea, marine sport is also banned simply because any boat built for fishing or recreation can come under fire even within the allowed fishing distance.
MAHFOUZ KABARITI, FISHING AND MARINE SPORTS ASSOCIATION (VOICEOVER TRANSL.): People are afraid from sailing on recreational boats, or even practicing any marine sport, especially in light of the daily shooting at fishermen that could be heard day and night. The Israelis prohibit the importation of any kind of marine sport equipment, such as jet skiing and speed boats, for what they say due to security concerns, and people here are denied their right to practice any marine sport.
ADIE MORMECH, INTERNATIONAL SOLIDARITY MOVEMENT: There are so many aspects by which Palestinians cannot just achieve a normal life, and sport is one of them. Again, it’s not just about fishing. You know, life is way beyond work. It’s also about leisure. And there has been a huge history of sports activities along the sea, whether it’s boat races, whether it was also surfing and a lot of other sports activities that are no longer possible because of the attacks by Israel against anybody, against anybody. The only attacks that have taken place in the sea have been against fishermen, and they’re continuous, and they’ve accelerated over the past couple of years. So not only does it destroy people’s livelihoods and pride and history in the work along the coast, but also it’s destroyed the leisure that people had so much time and enjoyment from in the Gaza Strip.
ALHELOU: Many maritime sports like Jet Ski are forbidden by the Israeli Navy. Israel justifies the measure for security concerns. Now Palestinian sailors wish to sail from Gaza to take part in international sailing championships.
Since 2008, five siege-breaking missions organized by international activists succeeded in breaking the blockade by sailing to Gaza port from various European ports. But a new project called “Gaza Ark” aims to break the blockade by building a big boat using existing resources with the help of a crew of internationals and Palestinians and sail it out of Gaza port, the only Mediterranean port closed for shipping. They will carry Palestinian products to fulfil trade deals with international buyers to challenge the Israeli blockade and bring the worlds’ attention to the plight of Gazans under the sea blockade.
Yousef Al-Helou, reporting for The Real News, Gaza.
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